Drawing near to others
Posted by Apolonio Latar on 7 May 2010 ·
Together with some other seminarians, I go to a children’s hospital once a week for charitable work. We try to visit every room to talk to the children and their parents. We then invite them to pray and sing with us in the hallway, so that they can see something beautiful in one of the last places they would choose to be. We do not know what to expect every time we come into a room. There are times when a knock at a door could be answered with a look that tells us that we are the last people they would like to see no matter how big our smiles might be. Some want nothing to do with religion and tell us explicitly to get out of the room. Others will try to debate with us about what they perceive to be the mess in the Church or doctrines that are difficult to explain in ten minutes. At the end of the visit, we feel uncertain whether we actually made their situation worse.
But there are also times when we are received with open arms, as if we were the people they have been looking for all this time. I remember a parent telling me, “You know, I did not go to church today because I had to stay with my son here in the hospital. Yet, when I do not go to God, He comes to me.” Those are the times when we understand that God put us there for a reason. It gives us a sense of pride because we recognize that we have brought hope, while at the same time we have a feeling of inadequacy because we know only too well that we could not have brought such a thing on our own. With these sentiments somehow mingled together, we cannot help but simply be joyful and thankful that God has brought these people to us.
It is difficult to understand what we are actually trying to do in this place since every Saturday afternoon brings about a different experience. Why do we really come to this place that gives us contradictory feelings? What can we actually do to make their situation better? What I cannot doubt is the fact that no matter how beautiful or awful the day is, their faces are imprinted in my heart throughout the day and even the whole week. From a face of a baby crying or a look of a father that is fighting to stay awake because he stayed up the whole night, to a person who does not answer one question that was asked—I cannot help but start seeing that reality is not indifferent towards us. It asks us to listen, to be compassionate, and most of all, to be faithful.
The most beautiful experience thus far is how my brother seminarians keep these faces in their hearts throughout the day. I hear them at every Sunday Mass asking God to bless the families they have encountered. They pray rosaries, speak about their experiences with the families to each other, and offer their daily work for them. Sometimes I even begin to feel guilty that I do not feel the same way for these people as I wish I would. The seminarians remind me that I cannot be indifferent towards reality. Friendship does such things: it takes away our indifference before reality. But it is not just that they make me sympathize with these people, although that is a great grace in itself. My brothers help me understand that I need the friendship of Christ, that my life must become a response to God’s claim upon us. Without my brothers, I would become suffocated by the fact that I cannot do anything to really help those who are in need. Without the face of Christ, I become crippled by my own ideas and preconceptions and lose my posture before reality. The Fraternity helps me to understand that the proper attitude before everything is that of prayer and offering. As Pope Benedict said, “Those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas est, 42).